When I read the Scriptures, I like to first read a portion over and over with an imaginative, meditative stance. From that, my curiosity is aroused, which naturally leads to an investigative, academic approach. These combined with constant dialogue with the Holy Spirit, our promised teacher translates into a process incorporating knowledge becoming transformation. Can you see why I love to engage with the living Scriptures?
Every week I meet for one hour with a group of women from all around the globe, online. We go over our lesson from Bible Study Fellowship International, discussing the questions and applications. It’s been a strengthening place for me, this group. I live outside of my home culture and do not have the opportunity to engage with others about the Word in my heart language. We’ve begun a study of the book of Acts.
To assimilate more of my meditation and research (for writing clarifies things for me and tends to solidify them within), and also hopefully, for the benefit of my small group, I am going to set down my insights here every week. They certainly will not be exhaustive for the sake of length and time constraints, as well as the nature of ever-increasing revelation that time in the Word brings through years. I am hoping these words might serve you too and spur you on to dwell with me in these Scriptures and receive therein the limitless living treasures.
ACTS 1 (read first)
I googled photos of the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, the location where the apostle Luke describes Yeshua ascended, and where prophesied, he will one day return. It’s a dry and modernized terrain now, no lush olive groves in sight and not seeming to be the most desirable place in comparison with some of the natural wonders of the world. In time though, as Ezekiel 36 prophecies, even the very earth of that area will come lush again in preparation for the Great Return—indeed, Isreal is already experiencing physical renewal as the Jewish people return in increasing numbers. Live webcams stationed now on the eastern slope of the Mount stand posed to capture the moment Yeshua returns. I wonder how that technological attempt by man will work out someday; is this how all will see and hear his return?
I long for the return of the King when my faith is made sight! How I love that Scripture promises an award for those who yearn for this day: “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:8) There is a reward in hopeful anticipation; there is a blessing for those who wake every morning with the desire that perhaps today might be the day. Every Thanksgiving and every Christmas in which I feast with my family, I wonder if the next grand celebration of which I partake will find me in the New Jerusalem. We are a people branded with holy anticipation.
I imagine what it was like if I had been with the disciples on that Mount. I most likely would have joined my voice with theirs in questioning insistence that Yeshua rescue Israel from the Romans and restore Israel’s self-rule. After all, they knew he was from the line of David; that position alone qualified him to fill the role of the deliverer. Still, regardless of all this group had witnessed and heard in the past three years, they didn’t understand. Yeshua came to show them how to live, of what God was like in the flesh, to break forth the Kingdom of Heaven and then to die as a ransom for sin. All of that seemed not to be enough for them. Yeshua was not acting and behaving in ways they expected and desired.
How many times do I question him when I am attempting to convince him to fulfill my immediate agenda? I am just as polite as the disciples when I start the question to him with a “will you?” as if I assume his answer should be “well, of course!”, solely because I know his capability; I know he is ideally qualified to complete what I am asking. But ability should never be the basis of our requests to God, should they? Rather submission to ways that are far more encompassing, generous, and powerful than my small mind can grasp ought to be the prerequisite. He is God. Where were we when the earth’s foundation was laid while the morning stars sang together, and all the angels shouted with joy (Job 38)? I am humbled by these thoughts and by the sobering reality of my tendencies.
Messiah was patient with them in how and what they questioned, as he is with me. In the forty days after the Father resurrected Him from the dead, he took those days to show himself to them and others again and again. My imagination runs wild at the thought of those days and nights during which our King gave even more of himself. The contemporary Jewish historian Josephus referred to this time, as did other writers. Two generations later, the writer Eusebius interviewed many people who had known people who saw Jesus during these days, told of miracles, even cited sermons and letters of the risen Yeshua. Amazing! Not all believed in Yeshua, yet not many in those years after his appearing doubted the validity of the resurrection. I marvel that these two facts can exist together.
Yeshua set out in those forty days to accomplish several things: to open the disciples minds to understand the fullness of the Scriptures which had foretold his coming; to expand their vision about the Kingdom of God (his very rule and reign in the hearts of those who would believe in him); and to prove that death had been defeated in him and through him. It’s comforting to know that he’s patient with his proofs to us. He knows that quite often, our frailty requires them — especially to move forward (think of Gideon and his insistence of the fleeces and our Lord’s responses).
Pause with me a moment before I continue walking through Acts 1: think of Jesus — so alive and victorious, still engaging with humanity, again walking roads and interrupting conversations, halting hearts and looking into lonely eyes, taking more moments to act, to teach, to model, to bless, to pour out the gift of presence. Did he weep again over Jerusalem? Did he go after just one more sheep he couldn’t bear to not physically retrieve before he left this earth? Did he throw his head back and laugh with joy when one more repented? Did he? I get the picture of Yeshua going out and seeking, not waiting for the crowds to come to him—intentional about his appearances, needing them to matter to those whom he surprised, to propel them forward with passion and urgency.
It was 40 days of the Greatest Encore. I wonder, did the angels applaud even louder at the tremendous displays of his love that seemed, that is, unstoppable and unexpected?
How fantastic it must have been to be with the resurrected Christ! Is it not precious that his resurrected body still bore the scars of his redeeming crucifixion? His greatest shame will forever define his greatest glory. I think this is a clue for us in all we endure — those things which we perceive as shameful and weak are the very things that are working for us an eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17). We are not to view them with humiliation, instead, with the knowledge that regardless of their oft intention for evil, God means them for good (Genesis 50:20). Perhaps our scars —whatever they are and however they manifest in each of our lives— will not entirely be erased in our resurrection, but serve as reminding holy marks of our process of going from transforming glory to glory. It is something to ponder.
Forty, the number of days Jesus remained on earth after his resurrection, is a biblical number. It symbolizes testing and/or transition (think of Moses in the wilderness and on Mt. Sinai, of Jonah in the great fish, of the temptation of Yeshua and so forth). The number appears 146 times in the bible! God is such a god of order; he follows his patterns with consistency and meaning. Because we tend to operate randomly, we assume he does when that is not the case.
The significance of the number 40 brings back to me memories of my 40th year; it was indeed a full year of testing and transition, of which I am still understanding and living in the ensuing ramifications. Discern the patterns, rhythms, ways of God revealed in Scripture and nature. They give us grooves to our existence and order to our seasons.
Yeshua answers his disciples’ question about restoring Isreal — he essentially said, “later.” Israel would have self-rule restored in 1948. The event that Israel will be the core of the Kingdom of God in the Millenial Kingdom (I don’t subscribe to replacement theology) is still to come. Yes, Jesus would do what they asked and more, just in a way and in time beyond their comprehension. So Yeshua tells them to trust in the Father’s authority to hold the knowledge of the times and seasons and turn their attention to the immediate promise and command to be his emissaries.
Yeshua was leaving them, and this was a good thing. It meant that the Holy Spirit, the “Helper,” could be released into the hearts of believers (Jn.16:7) to animate his body and send his presence into the world. It meant that Yeshua could begin preparing a future home for his own (Jn. 14:3). It meant that he could inherit the unshakable Kingdom and take complete dominion.
We have insight from the prophet Daniel of what occurred in the heavenlies once Yeshua lifted off our earth in his resurrected body and went up through the clouds (and it gives me shivers): “And behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)
AMEN! The King’s enthroned! And like any wise and generous King, he gives a coronation gift to his subjects: the Helper who will be with and within all who believe in him and therefore are God’s children, for all eternity (John 1:12 ). All eternity!
So the disciples, along with women and the mother of Jesus and his brothers, obey. They prayerfully wait in anticipation of the promised gift to be bestowed by the King. A promise indeed prepares them as does prayer for the commission they have received: to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all he commanded and baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
It is important to examine more closely what Jesus meant when he informed them that “John has baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” From what I have learned, the Greek word for “baptize” means “immerse.” The purpose of immersion is for a person or an object to take on the qualities of the liquid. From the Jewish perspective, immersion intends to bring about ritual purification or cleansing. They believed that God had always made it clear that someone or something that is not pure is not usable to God.
Mikveh was a bath used for the process of ritual immersion in Judaism used for obtaining purity. The Jewish disciples of Jesus were very familiar with the idea of immersion, and it’s importance. To them ritual immersion signified a willful change from one status to another.
Again, God was building on what he had already established in the hearts and minds of his people. Christians, also relying on what God has already revealed as our faith is Jewish, understand baptism to be a symbol of laying down our will and submitting to God. Baptism becomes death and burial of our identity. Our new identity aligns with Yeshua and his Kingdom.
John the Baptist could only immerse a person in water as a show of all the symbolism. But here, in Acts 1, Yeshua is saying that they will be baptized with the Holy Spirit, by Jesus (Mark 1, John 1). When experiences immersion in the Spirit, one would take on the qualities of the Spirit, namely power. What sort of enablement would this give that they did not have before? The ability to hear God, to obey him, to do his will in impossible circumstances to proclaim the Good News of Yeshua and the Kingdom.
Without this power and subsequent authority, there is no way the disciples could have functioned as Yeshua’s witnesses. Nor can we. We try — all the time. How much we need to remember that our most significant preparation is also that of prayer, and our most excellent power for enablement is also the Helper’s power.
And now, Yeshua tells them that he is releasing them to go everywhere, geographically (in contrast with Mt. 10:5-6) to be his witnesses. First to the Jews in Jerusalem, then to the Jews in Judea (there because of the diaspora), on to the formally despised ones in Samaria and then out (eventually) to the Gentiles, unto the ends of the earth. Incredible!
Our God, he has always been a missionary, traveling God. This aspect of his heart of rescue is precious to me and a consistent inspiration here where I live in a foreign land. It brings tears to my eyes. What an expansive and all-inclusive God!
Now, with Yeshua as the mediator, the Spirit would not just occasionally rest on people as often was the case in the Older Testament, but remain with and indwell all God’s children (the pattern began in Numbers 11:24-26, now exploded to a whole new level). The fact of the present Spirit changes everything. In Acts 2, I will expound more on what I believe about the baptism of the Spirit.
It was in those days of waiting and praying for the promise of the Spirit that the apostle Peter dealt with not what was unknown, but what was known. Namely the need to replace Judas that their number might again be twelve (forming the core group of Yeshua’s disciples). Did Yeshua instruct Peter beforehand to be sure to take care of this? Or did Peter, a good practicing Jew, know the Scriptures so well that it was inevitable that it was time to respond to them (Ps. 69:25; 109:8)?
Regardless, Peter recognizes the need. He first gives the background: Judas had been chosen by Yeshua. He had been an advocate, a believer, a follower of Yeshua. Still, this was not enough to be delivered from eternal death. Friends, we must acknowledge with everything in us that Yeshua IS the son of God, the Saviour of the world, and submit to him with full and sincere hearts.
When it became clear that Yeshua was not going to do what Judas expected him to do (lead a rebellion and deliver Israel from the Roman rule), he gave up on him. He stood in opposition with his poor decision to betray Messiah. He could not answer, as Peter had (Mt. 16:13-15) that Yeshua was the Christ.
It is sobering how close we can get to Yeshua and yet how far away we can be. We cannot play around in our lives with the person and purpose of Yeshua. He doesn’t allow it. Oh Yeshua, even as I type this, I turn again to You in the fullness of submission for you are everything you revealed yourself to be, and I belong to you! Refresh my awareness of your supreme authority over my life. You are worthy.
Peter details the qualifications of the newest disciple: he must have been with the rest of them since the beginning of their time with Jesus up until his ascension, and he must have also been a witness to his resurrection. The disciples put two forward you matched these qualifications: Justus and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You Lord, know the hearts of all, to show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And then they cast lots and the lot fell on Mattias.
Elisabeth Elliot, in her little gem of a book, “A Slow and Certain Light,” said this about this incident: “They took it by faith. They assumed that God was in the choice of the nominees, to begin with. Now all that remained was for him to make clear which one it should be. They had exercised their responsibility. They expected him to exercise his. They did not look for a shaft of light to strike the right man, or a halo to appear around his head. They resorted to the method any man on the street would have thought of–they cast lots. The lot fell on Mattias, and he was enrolled with the other eleven. The whole process strikes me as orderly and sensible, which is what I would expect God’s way to be.” (p.109-110)
Exactly. The ways of God are often more tranquil and sensible than we care to admit in our desire to see the affirmation of God in the abnormal on a consistent basis as if this is more divine. We make things complicated when the ways of God brings increasing simplification. I am learning as my years increase, this aspect of God’s orderliness. He is at once systematic as he is abstract; ever the artist and the scientist in perfect integration, ever complex yet simple.
As far as the casting of the lots, we see this elsewhere in Scripture (Proverbs 16:33; Joshua 14:2; Numbers 33:54; 34:13-21). It was a method, similar to us tossing a coin that people believed God revealed his will. Most ancient cultures consulted “oracles” to seek to understand the desires of the divine. God, as always, worked through their cultural ways to show his presence. The “picking of straws” or “tossing of a coin,” God honored and had his way in them. Such is the case here in Acts 2. What is fascinating is that after the promise of the Holy Spirit is bestowed from King Yeshua, there is never again a mention of God’s people “casting lots,” for they now had his Spirit within to give guidance. Alas, that could also be yet another post!